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University College Hospital declares ‘climate and health emergency’, citing concern over environmental crisis

‘NHS needs to speak as one on this’, central London hospital says

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 19 August 2021 20:21 BST
UCLH declaring climate and health emergency
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University College London Hospital has declared a “climate and health emergency”, and will reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in the next 10 years.

A new 10-point plan has been unveiled by the hospital in central London, which as well as reducing electricity usage, cutting plastic and encouraging staff to use active modes of travel to get to work, will also aim to reduce the hospital’s use of certain harmful anaesthetic gas by 90 per cent.

The plan involves partnering with NGO Global Action Plan and Camden Council to help improve local air quality, with workshops for staff on how to change their transport routine, and assistance with bicycle maintenance and storage.

Meanwhile, where suitable, some patient consultations which moved to video conferencing during the pandemic will be continued in order to reduce demands on the hospital itself, and the transport network.

Luke O’Shea, UCLH’s director of innovation who is leading the drive to reduce emissions, said the hospital’s plan will put it ahead of the NHS’s existing commitments to reduce its impact on the planet.

He said: “The climate is changing and sadly time is running out to act. It is staggering to think that 19 of the last 20 years have been the hottest on record.

“The NHS creates 40 per cent of public sector emissions, 5 per cent of the UK total. Spurred on by the NHS’s drive to reach a net zero target by 2040 and an 80 per cent reduction by 2028 to 2032, we at UCLH have a plan, but will go further and faster, aiming to be net zero within 10 years by 2031.”

In a tweet, Mr O’Shea added: “In a summer of fires, floods and extreme heat, with so many lives lost around the world, we are reminded that the #ClimateEmergency is a #HealthEmergency too. The NHS needs to speak as one on this.”

The hospital said the announcement would build on its current “Green Plan”, which was put in place in 2020. The plan has seen investment of more than £2.5m in a programme to:

· install low energy LED lights,

· switch to sustainable electricity and recycled paper,

· reduce patient journeys by 50 per cent,

· reduce the use of the most harmful anaesthetic gas by 90 per cent, and

· engage staff to take part in climate action schemes.

The new 10-point plan commits UCLH to cutting energy emissions by 80 per cent by 2025, the hospital said.

The organisation said it would achieve this by only using renewable electricity, and has already switched energy provider to sustainable company Haven Power.

“We are installing solar panels throughout our hospitals, and we have installed LED lights at five sites with more sites to follow in the coming months,” the hospital said in a statement.

The new lighting uses 70 per cent less energy than previously, resulting in the hospital saving more than 1,200 tonnes of CO2 every year.

UCLH said some greenhouse gases used in anaesthetics, would be phased out, with the organisation naming Desflurane – a highly fluorinated methyl ethyl ether used for maintenance of general anaesthesia – as the “worst offender”. Instead, the use of lower footprint intravenous anaesthetics will be increased to move away from inhaled gases.

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